Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Wilderland Tales

With two parts of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy down – one being available on DVD and the other having recently been released in the cinema, it seems like the perfect time to return to the roleplaying that serves as the trilogy’s sequel. Published in 2011 to much acclaim before the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Cubicle Seven Entertainment’s The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild is set entirely after the events of the film trilogy, but before The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Not only is the time frame of the RPG, from the year 2946 of the Third Age, exactly five years after the Battle of the Five Armies limited, but so is its scope. It is essentially limited to an area bound by Rivendell and the Misty Mountains to the West, the Lonely Mountain to the North, the Iron Hills to the East, and the haunt of the Necromancer, Dol Guldur to the South. The region between these points, an area known as the ‘Wilderland’ that is dominated by the deep and dark woods of Mirkwood.

It is over this wide area, one that is yet to escape the gloom of centuries past that emanated from Dol Guldur, but into which the light of hope and freedom have begun to seep, that the heroes of The One Ring will tramp, time and time again. Their adventures will involve much travel, by foot and by boat, being often beset by the weather which prevents safe travel, let alone adventure for months on end. This is modelled in the RPG, which employs Adventuring and Fellowship phases, there being one of each per year, with typically only time for a single adventure each year. This is the model for Tales from Wilderland, the first supplement for The One Ring. It presents seven ready-to-play aventures that can each be played as single affairs or as a campaign that spans several years.

Set after the year 2946 of the Third Age, Tales from Wilderland opens with ‘Don’t Leave the Path’ and the fellowship of adventurers coming to the aid of young boy whose father is in trouble. Coming to his aid sees them hired by him as caravan guards and their travelling from near the remains of Lake Town across Mirkwood to the Elven King’s halls and beyond. This is a simple, fairly straight forward adventure, one that introduces the heroes to one of the core aspects of the setting of The One Ring – travel and its dangers. A second aspect is introduced in ‘Of Leaves & Stewed Hobbit’, that of hope and the chance to restore a sense of civilisation after years of darkness and despair. Finding refuge at The Easterly Inn, an establishment newly opened by Hobbits inspired by Bilbo Baggins’ adventures, the fellowship is asked by the proprietor to find his brother who is long overdue with a caravan of essentials brought over the Misty Mountains from the Shire. The fellowship’s search takes it up the High Pass where the adventurers find evidence that the lost Hobbit has been waylaid. In order to get him back the adventurers will need to delve deep and come up with a solution to a culinary challenge! This adventure is markedly more inventive than the first and the challenge itself has a certain Tolkienesque sense of fun to it.

Unfortunately, the third adventure is slightly disappointing. It is not that it is poorly written or feels ill-suited to the setting of The One Ring, but it lacks a certain originality. The plot of ‘Kinstrife & Dark Tidings’ has the adventurers make a gruesome discovery on the banks of the river Anduin and then have to take some unwelcome news to Beorn himself! He charges the player characters to track down a fugitive, in the process of which they should uncover his crimes and bring him to justice. The next adventure, ‘Those Who Tarry No Longer’ pleasingly touches upon the grand sweep of Middle Earth’s history when the adventurers are asked to escort an Elven lady of an ancient and noble lineage. Although the journey is not far, it proves to be a harrowing challenge, one that needs to be faced rather than denied… ‘A Darkness in the Marshes’ is best played as a sequel to ‘Those Who Tarry No Longer’. Summoned to Rhosgobel where they invited to tea by Radagast the Brown – his portrayal here understandably much more constrained than that of Sylvester McCoy’s in The Hobbit trilogy – who asks them to follow up on the threat that beset them in ‘Those Who Tarry No Longer’. Doing so takes them up to the isolated Mountain Hall of the Woodmen where they learn of an evil to the south. Investigating this gives the adventurers the chance to encounter the threat that has been harrying them for the past two or three years.

The final two adventures in Tales from Wilderland both take place after ‘A Darkness in the Marshes’ and like the adventures before it, give an opportunity for the fellowship to meet one or two of the great figures of the Third Age. In the first of these, ‘The Crossings of Celduin’, the adventurers join the thronging crowds to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of the Five Armies in the city of Dale. They have the chance to participate in the tournaments and enjoy the feast, but when a calamity strikes the celebration, the adventurers are the only ones who can fly south quick enough to meet the vanguard of dark host. Unlike the previous five adventures which take the Fellowship west of Mirkwood, this adventure takes them east. The challenge in ‘The Crossings of Celduin’ is daunting enough, that in ‘The Watch on the Heath’ is truly fearsome. All but inspired by the events of The Hobbit itself, it sends the adventurers north of the Lonely Mountain to deal with a danger that will truly test their mettle...

Tales from Wilderland both is very nicely presented, in keeping with the style and look of The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild. Its dour shades make for a pleasing change over the more vibrant shades to be found in other RPG titles. The book is well-written, decently illustrated, and its cartography has an engagingly rough quality. The seven scenarios share the same format that makes them easy to read and run. That said, breaking the index down by scenario reads a little odd. Where Tales from Wilderland slightly disappoints is in the lack of advice for the Loremaster with regard to the degree of experience required by the player characters from one adventure to the next. Further, the set-up does feel similar from one scenario to the next, although what this proves again and again is the fellowship needs to make a good impression upon the Free Folk of the North.

What Tales from Wilderland does impress upon Loremaster and players alike is that The One Ring is not an RPG where the adventurers possess dubious moral characters. The RPG and the scenarios in this collection do not really support anything other than heroic play or effort. Similarly, like the RPG, the scenarios in Tales from Wilderland are truly not about the acquisition of either gold or gems; nor is there the opportunity to gain ‘magical items’. These adventures are about building hope and pushing back the darkness that was scattered at the Battle of the Five Armies. Tales from Wilderland is a solid set of adventures for The One Ring; its campaign the perfect start to a game of The One Ring; and if successful, a great way for a fellowship to bring hope to the Wilderland.